Sheriff considers joining jail-based deportation program

by Dan Colton
for The Beacon

Sheboygan County Sheriff Cory Roeseler said he’s interested in implementing an Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy that would allow his deputies to handle deportation proceedings for undocumented people in custody in Sheboygan County.

Roeseler said his interest in  ICE’s 287(g) policy is related to  streamlining and hastening the deportation of undocumented people in custody. He said ICE agents are presently required to travel to Sheboygan under the county’s current policy. By adopting 287(g), his deputies wouldn’t be reliant upon out-of-county agents.

He stressed that there would not be ICE raids in the community, and only felonious or repeat offenders would be subject to 287(g) deportation.

“The way we look at it is if the person has committed  a crime … we’re obviously going to work with our partner agencies,” Roeseler said. “We’re not looking to search out these individuals in the community, but when the situation arises that they’re in our custody and they’re a danger to our society because of that, we’re going to operate in any way, shape or form to make sure that person is no longer a threat.”

Roeseler said he was contacted by ICE representatives as part of a nation-wide push to expand 287(g). There is no imminent adoption of the policy, Roeseler said, but he plans to pursue training for his deputies when, and if, ICE decides to offer it in Sheboygan County.

But local activists and organizations warn the policy may prove harmful to immigrant communities.

Tim Muth, attorney for the American Civil Liberty Union of Wisconsin, said his organization believes law enforcement would lose trust within those communities. Muth said if 287(g) is adopted in Sheboygan County, immigrants would experience a chilling effect in reporting crimes because they develop a fear of deportations in any interaction with police.

“Other jurisdictions around the country do show a drop-off in reporting in crime, like reporting domestic abuse violence incidents,” Muth said. “The immigration community becomes fearful of reporting crimes, of going into the Sheboygan County Courthouse secured by county deputies, because they’re aware some are ICE agents even if they’re only working in the jail,” Muth said. “So you create this added distrust between the immigrant community and the sheriff’s department.”

According to ICE data, only one other sheriff’s department in Wisconsin has adopted the policy: The Waukesha Sheriff’s Department. Muth said the ACLU has been involved in pushing back against the practice there.

Additionally, Muth reported the ACLU of Wisconsin is opposed because the policy supports racial profiling and utilizes local tax money to enforce federal immigration law. Muth said the policy can also expose the sheriff’s department to expensive and time-consuming lawsuits.

The ACLU across the country has documented numerous cases of people being erroneously held for deportation despite their legal right to be inside the country.

“What that kind of shows us is that figuring out people’s identity and citizenship … is complicated stuff that even ICE, which is full-time invested in doing this work, gets it wrong on an all-too-frequent basis.”

Local Sheboygan activist and member of Voces de la Frontera, Marcos Guevara echoed Muth’s sentiments. He characterized 287(g) as a “terror tactic” used against migrant communities. He was raised in Mexico city, and his wife and children were all born in Bolivia.

“So this is a topic that’s near and dear to my heart,” Guevara said, adding that it’s been estimated several thousand undocumented residents live within Sheboygan County boundaries. The city of Sheboygan itself is comprised of roughly 20-percent Latino residents, according to school enrollment and recent census data, he said.

As part of Guevara’s activism, he’s met with Sheriff Roeseler to discuss concerns surrounding the 287(g) topic.

However, Guevara worries Roeseler’s interest in 287(g) will find easier footing due to current political and social pressures on undocumented people.

“There’s a lot of emotion tied up to it,” Guevara said. “Definitely people feel less safe in the refugee and immigrant Latinx community. People fear for themselves and their community. So it’s a much more difficult conversation to have recently. Emotions flare up pretty quickly.”

Instead of increasing law enforcement’s punishment and deportation capabilities, Guevara suggested another strategy: Remove existing legal restrictions on undocumented residents in order to curb crime levels.

He said providing driver’s licenses to members of migrant communities – “driver’s licenses for everybody,” Guevara said – would actually bridge the gap between law enforcement and fearful immigrants.

“Instead of pursuing 287(g) as a means to pursue law enforcement, we’re advocating for the reissuance of driver’s licenses because we feel that everyday driving should be supervised by the state, be able to get insurance, and that would make the roads and highways safer by having everybody licensed.”

It is unclear when or if ICE will schedule training in Sheboygan County. Sheriff Roeseler said he isn’t actively pursuing training, but he will enroll his deputies when it is available.

As of press time, ICE had not responded to multiple phone calls and emails.

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